Permits Now Required for Captain Cook Kayakers

UPDATE: As of 1/1/2013, the Hawaii Country Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) has issued a ban on kayaking in Kealakekua Bay. The local paper has the story here: According to the article, the DLNR is working on a broader management plan for the bay, but has not yet set a date when kayaking will once again be allowed. When we tried to go down to Kealakekua Bay in mid-January, the gate to the parking lot and wharf was locked, which would prevent kayakers from accessing the kayak drop in point.

At this point in time, the only (legal) way to snorkel the beautiful reef off of Captain Cook is to go on a larger boat with one of the tour companies out of Kailua. While you still might be able to rent a kayak, park to the east or west of the wharf and scramble over the rocks to drop in your kayak, we don’t advise doing so as it is illegal and the footing isn’t great (which is why we’ve ALWAYS used the wharf to drop in our kayaks).

As of February 2010: A free permit to land vessels along the Kaawaloa shoreline or moor at the wharf adjacent to the Captain Cook Monument is required by the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.

The Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) is flexing its muscles by only limiting the non-commercial kayakers and doing nothing to contain or limit the number of commercial ventures (charter boats, tour boats, etc.)  Ultimately, the Charter commercial operations will make a lot more money and recreational kayakers will lose yet another place to kayak to.

Starting Feb. 23, people must apply for a (noncommercial general public permit at the Division of State Parks’ Hawaii District Office, located at 75 Aupuni St. Room 204 in Hilo, or the electronic form online from the official website at:  http://www.  Please reference the 2nd page of the permit application where a map depicts the only allowable place to beach your kayaks and the only permissible trail from the cove to the Captain Cook Monument.

After filling out the online application, you can send the signed document via e-mail to [email protected], mail it to the Division of State Parks’ Hawaii District Office or fax it to 974-6222. Once reviewed and approved, the application will be e-mailed, mailed or faxed back to the respective applicant.  Please allow up to 5 business days for permit requests submitted electronically and 10 business days for permit requests submitted by mail.  According the the permit request form, a maximum of 10 non-commercial permits will be approved each day - a disappointingly low number.

For more information, call Division of State Parks’ Hawaii District Office at 974-6200.  You can also view the contact information from the official website.

Street Address:
Division of State Parks
75 Aupuni Street, Room 204
Hilo, Hawai‘i 96721
Phone: (808) 974-6200
Fax: (808) 974-6222

Mailing Address:
Division of State Parks
P.O. Box 936
Hilo, Hawai‘i 96721-0936

With the permit, visitors will receive information regarding sensitive sites and guidance on how to assist in preserving Kealakekua Bay State Historical Park and Kaawaloa peninsula, according to DLNR.

“By limiting access, we’re increasing the value of the experience by reducing the pressure put on this very sensitive place,” said Curt Cottrell, assistant administrator for the Division of State Parks. “This is a way to organize and manage the number of people who want to access the Kaawaloa flats, as well as educate them about the area’s rich history. It also makes it a lot clearer for Division of Conservation and Enforcement to cite you for not having the proper permit. An enforcement officer will be able to tell exactly who belongs there and who doesn’t.”

A separate permit will be required for each vessel and each permit is valid for only one day. Only 10 of these noncommercial general public landing permits will be issued daily. DLNR determined the number by observing who was using the area with no intentions of making money. This included residents and visitors kayaking or on paddleboards without commercial guides, Cottrell said.

Kealakekua Bay State Historical Park and Kaawaloa peninsula are two of Hawaii’s most significant historical and cultural locations, with an abundance of fragile and significant archaeological sites. Kaawaloa is the shoreline commonly used to access the Captain Cook Monument from the bay and to beach vessels before snorkeling at Kaawaloa Cove.

Prior to the system, the only legal way to land a vessel at Kaawaloa was with one of the two permitted commercial operators, which was not fair to the public, Cottrell said.

“Residents can easily access free education and cultural practices that will provide guidance to ensure there is no accidental damage to the cultural sites,” DLNR Chairwoman Laura Thielen stated in a prepared statement. “Visitors have guided tours to ensure they appreciate the historical and cultural significance of the areas and eliminate inadvertent damage. In the meantime, the entire bay remains open to all people to enjoy the pristine waters and marine life.”

Adventures in Paradise owner Jeff Hand said requiring a landing permit for the general public is “a step in the right direction” to protect the area. He said the system will reduce the overall number of people in the area, thus reducing the impact.

Hand also said the new permit system puts everyone on the same page in regard to the rules. He said commercial operators are already required to have a permit from the Division of State Parks to land at Kaawaloa, as well as permit from the Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation to use Napoopoo Pier. He added that enforcement is critical in this system’s success.

Hawaii Pack and Paddle owner Betsy Morrigan called the permit system “a very good beginning” and “an intelligent management decision.”

Any person beaching or launching a kayak or other vessel along the Kaawaloa shoreline or mooring at the wharf adjacent to the Captain Cook Monument without a permit from DLNR will be subject to civil penalty and the kayak or vessel may be subject to confiscation. An existing State Parks rule, HAR 13-146-13, prohibits landing, operating, leaving unattended, beaching, parking, launching, mooring and anchoring of vessels where prohibited by signage. Fines may be imposed by law. Signs will be posted at entry locations along the bay to notify everyone of the system and provide information on how they can obtain a permit. The Division of Conservation and Enforcement will have a presence, Cottrell said.

—————————-Media Release Below—————————

The Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) is implementing new measures to improve its management of the Kealakekua Bay State Historic Park and better protect the sensitive natural, historic and cultural resources of these treasures of Hawai‘i.

To prevent damage to the shoreline and coral reef and accidental destruction of significant historic and cultural sites by large numbers of visitors, DLNR is now requiring that visitors to the park receive information regarding the sensitive sites and guidance on how to assist in preserving the area during their visit. Effective February 23, 2010 information will be provided through a simple permit system for people seeking to land vessels along the Ka‘awaloa shoreline or moor at the wharf adjacent to the Captain Cook Monument in the bay.

“Residents can easily access free education and cultural practices permits that will provide guidance to ensure there is no accidental damage to the cultural sites,” said Laura H. Thielen, DLNR chairperson.

“Visitors have guided tours to ensure they appreciate the historical and cultural significance of the areas and eliminate inadvertent damage,” she added.

“In the meantime, the entire bay remains open to all people to enjoy the pristine waters and marine life,” she said.

Signs will be posted at entry locations along the bay to notify people of this system and provide information on how they can obtain a permit.

Kealakekua Bay State Historical Park and Ka‘awaloa peninsula within the bay are two of Hawai‘i’s most significant historical and cultural locations, with an abundance of fragile and significant archaeological sites.

Ka‘awaloa is the shoreline commonly used to access the famous Captain Cook Monument from the bay. Boaters also use this shoreline to beach their vessel before snorkeling at Ka‘awaloa Cove.

“We encourage every visitor and resident to enjoy this magnificent area, and to do so responsibly to protect and preserve the corals and marine life and help ensure public safety,” said Deborah Ward, spokesperson for DLNR.

DLNR has conducted recent law enforcement actions at the pier in cooperation with Hawai‘i County Police to address illegal commercial rental of kayaks. Several illegal kayaks have been confiscated.

DLNR is informing kayak rental vendors of the new permit requirement, and requesting that the vendors advise their customers of the landing without a permit restriction.

DLNR Enforcement officers have posted and distributed the same notice at Napo‘opo‘o Pier. DLNR will also implement an outreach plan to kayak and ocean recreation companies, visitor and resident recreational interests.

For more information on kayaking to and snorkeling at Captain Cook - check out our main Captain Cook, Kealakekua Bay section.

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  1. I am one of the state permitted kayak tour operators who are allowed to bring a specified number of people per day on a guided tour to Kealakekua bay with landing at the Captain Cook Monument area. A guided kayak tour with a friendly well-informed guide who shares with you the natural and cultural history of this amazing place, helps you on and off the tricky pier, and shows you all the best spots is definitely the way to go!

    While it is true to some extent that this new regulation restricts the freedom of independent kayaks to some extent, the purpose is to protect the coral and the historical sites at Kealakekua Bay State Historical Park. Kayak renters can stalk easily snorkel by pulling their boats behind by the bowline.

    It is not true that the state is doing nothing to regulate the numbers of commercial vessels. I am highly regulated, for one! It is so true that much more regulation could be done.

    • Letsgo-Hawaii says:

      Although I don’t disagree that the kayak tour providers are regulated, it seems to me that the greatest impact this new rule has made is simply reduced (or eliminated altogether) the number of recreational kayakers. I’ve been kayaking to Captain Cook for nearly 10 years now. I’ve kayaked to the traditional “parking spot” on the dried lava beds in the cove; I’ve walked to the monument; I’ve snorkeled most of the reef; and I’ve dived these waters extensively. If there was concern over the humans overrunning this beautiful and sacred area, DLNR would have also capped the number of tour providers as well.

      I happened to have kayaked to Captain Cook about a week prior to this new rule being instated. Needless to say, it was the busiest I have ever seen it - not just the number of recreational kayakers, but at one time there was no less than three zodiacs and two large charter vessels. I have been diving these wates for some time now and understand the human impact to the ecosystem - and the coral reef in particular. But let’s not kid ourselves - each of these large tour vessels and their dozens of passengers are often seen thrashing about in the shallow water immediately in front of the monument and standing on coral heads and doing other heinous acts.

      I remember shortly after the October 2006 earthquake when DLNR banned anyone from making landfall due to “safety” concerns. I too kayaked at that time and simply pulled the bowline as I snorkeled. I can do this again without having to concern myself with the permitting rules…

      This rule is one-sided and targets the “little man” while protecting the industry.

  2. Joya says:

    I also snorkel and dive here and have for many many years. Last Thursday I paddled over (no permit so I did not beach) and counted 3 large charter vessels and 4 zodiacs totaling close to 100-120 people. Never seen it so crowded before, it was combat snorkling at its worst. Kayakers not aware of (or not caring) about the new requirements were beaching all day. I completely agree — if you limit the kayakers, limit the number of people on the tours. It’s about preservation by limiting numbers isn’t it?

  3. Letsgo-Hawaii says:

    Yes, it is amazing how the new rule is supposed to protect the fragile ecosystem at Kealakekua Bay in fact only serves to protect the charter tour industry.

    Here are two changes that I would recommend: 1.) Limit the total number of people that visit Kealakekua Bay each day - and the total number of charter boats at one time that are allowed entry into the marine preserve. 2.) Make the kayak permitting an easier process - if it is an easier process, more will actually apply for the permit and follow the procedures.

    The main people that have been hurt by this new rule are the kayak tour providers - many of which are Hawaiian-owned businesses.

  4. Bill Smith says:

    This new rule does little to protect these magnificent waters and simply enriches tour providers. Charter boats do far more damage to the ecosystem than the handful of kayakers who journey over on there own. Shame on the DLNR and those profiting from this new permit system. What a sham.

    • Letsgo-Hawaii says:

      I agree with you. This new rule is nothing more than hazing for the lawful kayakers that are visiting beautiful Kealakekua Bay. If anything, there has been a more invasive and harmful intrusion into the ecosystem at Kealakekua Bay by the plethora of charter boats that seem to be coming in greater numbers than ever before. Where in the past you might have seen one zodiac and one large catamaran, today you see half a dozen or more large vessels in the bay at the same time. I am not sure of the motivation behind this DLNR rule, but clearly there has been no positive effect on the sea life of Kealakekua Bay.

  5. Mike Lemons says:

    My girlfriend and I are haole localz at this point — 12 years on island. She’s not a water girl and was getting sick to her stomach so I dropped her off on shore at the Captain Cook dock in front of the monument. The folks at the entry dock in Kealakekua told us to tie our kayak to the branches of the trees overhanging the water before going ashore. I don’t know if this is legal or not according to the new rules.

    What I do know is that our trip was pretty much ruined by a haole girl with a very rude loud mouth who apparently works for one of the charter companies, she pretty much killed all aloha thru the manner in which she went about bellowing to everyone on shore about how they were being illegal and that by beaching their kayaks and mooring them in the shallows they were helping to destroy the reefs. This after she pulled her own kayak onto the shore. This while my girlfriend was trying her best not to puke. Maybe this girl meant well on some level, but lord was she rude, and loud — no aloha whatsoever — and hypocritical: her intent seemed much more focused on claiming the shore as hers and not anyone else’s, rather than trying to protect the reef. Besides, if you really wanted to protect the reef, you should REQUIRE those going onto shore to make a kayak entry at a designated point — it doesn’t take a Master’s in Marine Science (I have this, along with 4 yrs marine environmental education experience) to know that clambering in snorkel gear over the reefs onto the shore does a whole lot more damage than sliding up in a kayak.

    That said, I am two thumbs up for protecting the reefs. I will follow these new rules, as ineffective as they might be, simply because I support the intent of marine policies and like to follow the rules anyway. But they need a more effective set of rules in this case — and somebody needs replace that horrible girl, whoever she is.

    • Letsgo-Hawaii says:

      Sorry to hear about your crazy experience. What we have here is an absurd law that protects (and encourages) the charter companies - at an unregulated pace - to continue to take as many passengers as possible to Kealakekua Bay… all in the name of profit. This policy is hidden under the thin veil of “protecting the environment”.

      Yes, it is true, without your permit, you cannot set foot on the monument or the land surrounding it. You can attempt to tie your kayak to overhanging branches — but that is no easy task (I’ve tried myself and was unsuccessful). It really depends on the winds as to whether your kayak will be secure… or get dashed on the rocks on the shore.

      If the DLNR was serious about protecting the reef, they would cap the total number of tourists allowed (regardless of whether it is a charter, etc.) at Captain Cook. Also, by making the registration process easier (putting it online and have the approval come back immediately), less people will be “renegade” kayakers. In the past I have simply held on to the bow line of the kayak while snorkeling nearby, never setting foot on shore… but this won’t work if you have a sea sick passenger!

      I wish you had videotaped the rude girl and put it on YouTube!

  6. CaptainCookGuy says:

    Shame on DLNR, you’re after the money. Kayak does NOT harm the ecosystem at Kealakekua Bay. The charter boats/private boats do harm the ecosystem. USE YOUR HEAD!!!!

    • Letsgo-Hawaii says:

      Excellent point - not sure why I didn’t post this earlier… what is the environmental impact of the fuel-burning boat engines of all the zodiacs and giant catamarans? As opposed to the non-impact of the human-powered kayaks. Let’s be honest, kayaks being drug up onto the shore and people walking along the man-made wall aren’t hurting the environment. It’s the mass groups of people (from the charters) standing on the reef that are hurting the ecosystem.

  7. CaptainCookGuy says:


    I totally agree with you.

  8. hbunny says:


    The exact same thing happened to us today. The woman pulled her kayak, along with those of her tour, up on the rock and she camped out on the monument ledge. When we took a break from snorkeling and climbed up, she asked us if we were with a tour company or a cruise ship. When we said no she told us we needed a permit to be there. We had pulled our kayak out since the surf was high and my wife is pregnant. She explained that that was killing the reef (apparently her permit prevented the plastic on her boats from affecting the reef). She told me to walk over and get my boat and tow it like the other independent kayakers. While I fetched the boat, she kept asking my wife if she was going to get back in the water. When I paddled back, my wife noticed my head was bleeding - I’d gashed it on a tree. Nothing serious, but it was bleeding and the tour woman responded by telling me to keep my kayak off the wall where my wife was sitting.

    The locals who rented us the kayaks showed a lot more concern for the environment and us than she did. As we were paddling back, 3-4 boats loaded with dozens of snorkels were arriving. It’s pretty clear that the way this law is structured is more about protecting large operators than protecting the reef.

    • Letsgo-Hawaii says:


      Funny how pompous these tour operators are. Everyone seemed to get along just fine prior to this rule being put into effect (I actually kayaked out to Captain Cook about one week before the enforcement of this rule). Now these tour operators are marine biologists with a “do as I say not as I do” attitude. I’d like to start posting the names of these companies online to let everyone know… Having pulled my kayak up onto the dried lava beds to the left of the monument countless times dating back more than 10 years, I can tell you there is no coral at that spot - you are dragging the hull of your plastic kayak over the dried lava. What is infinitely more damaging is the droves of people from the giant catamaran that are standing right on the coral reef in front of the monument.

  9. mpa says:

    I’ve been going to the Big Island for decades for a precious 7-10 days vacation, to relax, swim and kayak the ocean; to be free, to be spontaneous, to recharge and then return home with a sense of renewal and optimism for the future. When I go alone, I rent snorkel gear and kayak, and spend much of my time on the ocean, and in Kealakekui Bay and Captain Cook Monument.

    In the late summer of 2010, I enthusiastically went where I traditionally rent my gear, and DUMBSTRUCK when I was told I couldn’t kayak there anymore without a permit (too late to apply, and no guarantees anyway given the restriction of only 10 kayaks per day).

    I managed hike to the monument and found the Captain Cook Coastline marred by oppressive signs listing restrictions and threatening kayak confiscation. I surveyed the Coastline to validate the absurdity to suggest mooring kayaks on Solid Slates of Lava Rock was going to somehow damage the environment. (Ironically, someone forced to tie-off to tree branches off shore would also be forced to walk over reef to get to shore, not to mention this is somewhat unsafe for inexperienced vacationers).

    I feel robbed of what I’ve enjoyed for decades, to vacation at Hawaii and be free, spontaneous, and in the moment; to enjoy the unencumbered delight of communing with nature. The State Park restrictions, oppressive signs, and threats, have reduced the Captain Cook experience to little more than obtaining an “E” ticket for a Disneyland ride.

    I have since realized what happened at Kealakekui State Park is a reflection of something happening on a much broader scale; an extreme ideology, agenda and expanded bureaucracy needlessly threatening the freedom of people to enjoy Municipal, State, and National Parks throughout the country. It’s probably not appropriate to elaborate in this forum; Suffice to say, progressive restrictions to use our parks, beaches and open spaces appears to begin with unproven/unstudied allegations, unjustified restrictions, excessive and oppressive signage, expanded support staff and databases devoted to enforcement (as opposed to service), and establishment of creatively financed/unpaid-for visitor centers from which parks are controlled and visitors are informed of rules, penalties, and indoctrinated with how bad humans are to the biosphere.

    • letsgo-hawaii says:

      Thanks for sharing your frustrations with the Kealakekua Bay restrictions. Alas, we share your feelings… interesting you mention the 10-kayak per day restriction… I swear the last time I was at Captain Cook I saw nearly 10 charter boats (powered by gas-burning engines) in one hour. Clearly the environmental impact is significant from the charter boats as opposed to a man-powered kayak. Unfortunately, it is all about the dollars - the tourist charter boats have greater fiscal (and apparently political) clout than a nature enthusiast like you or I.

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